Improving the Well-Being of Young Parents

Posted July 8, 2020
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young parent spending time with child

Two recent reports fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion explore chal­lenges faced by young par­ents, par­tic­u­lar­ly moth­ers of col­or. The pub­li­ca­tions also share rec­om­men­da­tions for how pub­lic sys­tems and pol­i­cy mak­ers can enhance edu­ca­tion­al, finan­cial and health out­comes for these par­ents and their children.

Rec­om­men­da­tions from young parents

Grow­ing Togeth­er — which is based on dis­cus­sions and inter­views with more than 100 par­ents in 2018 and 2019 — finds that young care­givers report fac­ing myr­i­ad chal­lenges, including:

  • feel­ing alone and lack­ing support;
  • strug­gling to find and keep afford­able hous­ing, qual­i­ty health care and child care; and
  • bal­anc­ing par­ent­ing, edu­ca­tion­al goals and jobs that pay fam­i­ly-sus­tain­ing wages — all while still main­tain­ing access to pub­lic ben­e­fits, such as food stamps and child-care assistance.

The pub­li­ca­tion, pro­duced by the non­prof­it Unit­ed Par­ent Lead­ers Action Net­work, cites numer­ous rec­om­men­da­tions offered by young par­ents and aimed at address­ing these issues. This advice includes:

  • devel­op­ing more sup­port groups and resource cen­ters so that young par­ents can meet, con­nect and learn from each other;
  • expand­ing access to health insur­ance for young par­ents, which would help them finan­cial­ly and help them address health issues like post­par­tum depression;
  • increas­ing and expand­ing pro­grams that expand access to afford­able hous­ing and child care;
  • offer­ing more job train­ing aimed at young par­ents and advo­cat­ing for flex­i­ble work poli­cies that can help them man­age their par­ent­ing responsibilities.

The coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic has only exac­er­bat­ed the chal­lenges that young par­ents face,” says Rosa Maria Cas­tañe­da, a senior asso­ciate at the Casey Foun­da­tion who man­ages invest­ments in two-gen­er­a­tion approach­es. Our hope is that advo­cates, pol­i­cy mak­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers will push to remove bar­ri­ers for young par­ents while also help­ing them jug­gle work, edu­ca­tion and par­ent­ing dur­ing these dif­fi­cult times and in the long-term.

Young par­ents lack sup­port from pub­lic systems

Young Par­ents Speak Out reports that young par­ents face numer­ous gaps in sup­port from pub­lic sys­tems like child wel­fare, juve­nile jus­tice and gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits programs.

The paper, released by the non­prof­it Nation­al Crit­ten­ton in part­ner­ship with Katch­er Con­sult­ing, finds that:

  • Poli­cies can have unin­tend­ed con­se­quences on young par­ents. Poli­cies like work require­ments to receive gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits and strict penal­ties for late child sup­port pay­ments force young par­ents to make dif­fi­cult deci­sions. For instance, some young par­ents may for­go edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties if it means tak­ing time away from work and reduc­ing their gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits, such as food stamps or hous­ing assis­tance. Many young moth­ers and fathers who have pri­ma­ry cus­tody of their chil­dren also decline cer­tain gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits because it would require them to report that non­cus­to­di­al par­ents are behind on child sup­port, which could lead to wage gar­nish­ment or even jail time.
  • Insti­tu­tions serv­ing young par­ents are siloed. Work­force devel­op­ment groups, com­mu­ni­ty non­prof­its, child wel­fare agen­cies and oth­er sys­tems and orga­ni­za­tions often fail to coor­di­nate their ser­vices. The end result is a com­plex web of ben­e­fits and resources that can be dif­fi­cult for young par­ents to navigate.
  • Data about sys­tem-involved young par­ents is lack­ing. States are required to report num­bers on expec­tant and par­ent­ing youth involved in the child wel­fare sys­tem. These data col­lec­tion efforts have hit delays and few agen­cies dis­ag­gre­gate their find­ings by race. In addi­tion, juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems are not even required to gath­er this information.

The report calls on orga­ni­za­tions, advo­cates and pub­lic sys­tems to take a num­ber of steps — like enhanc­ing research, ramp­ing up data col­lec­tion efforts and craft­ing shared pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties — to bet­ter sup­port young parents.

We hope that lead­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers exam­ine the bro­ken sys­tems and prac­tices that exces­sive­ly bur­den young fam­i­lies and their chil­dren,” Cas­tañe­da says. As it stands, we are leav­ing too many of our young par­ents — and, by exten­sion, our com­mu­ni­ties and youth — behind.”

Learn more about poli­cies that help young parents

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